A Deep Dive into Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Messaging — and the Pros and Cons of Each

Text messaging has become more and more important with each successive generation of customers, and CX directors have responded by gradually making it an ever-higher priority.

But text messaging isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; there are different ways to approach messaging interactions, and they each have their own use cases.

We’ve talked a lot, for example, about the distinction between rich messaging and plain text messaging, but another key divide is around “synchronous” and “asynchronous” messaging.

That will be our focus today. We’ll define synchronous and asynchronous messaging, explain how each applies to your messaging strategy, and provide the information you need to decide when to use one or the other.

Let’s get going!

What’s the Difference Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Messaging?

In this section, we’ll define synchronous messaging and asynchronous messaging in simple and clear terms before we discuss their differences.

What is Synchronous Messaging?

Synchronous messaging is part of a real-time conversation with a clearly defined beginning and end. Both parties must actively engage in the conversation at the same time, whether on their phones or on their keyboards.

You’ve no doubt heard of synchronized swimming or synchronized skating, and the principle is the same with synchronized messaging—everyone must participate at the same time.

What is Asynchronous Messaging?

Asynchronous messaging occurs when two parties have a conversation but don’t have to be present at the same time; what’s more, with asynchronous messaging, there’s generally not a clearly defined end to the conversation.

If you’re like many of us, text messaging with your friends and family occurs asynchronously. When both of you are available, the conversation might go back and forth seamlessly, but you could also have the same conversation over a longer period of time while you’re both working or running errands.

An Overview of Synchronous Messaging

Above, we took time to define synchronous messaging as any interaction that occurs in real-time when two or more participants are actively engaged. All of today’s channels support synchronous messaging, but web chat and many kinds of in-app messaging are particularly associated with this style of communication.

Pros of Synchronous Messaging.

For a number of reasons, synchronous messaging has an important place in customer service. A non-exhaustive list of its benefits includes the fact that:

  • Customers feel more connected: Since conversations are happening in real-time, customers instantly feel more engaged and connected to your contact center agents. They know there’s a real person on the other side of the screen helping them at this very moment, and that can change how they perceive the whole conversation.
  • It’s easy to track performance: Since synchronous messages have a defined beginning and end, it’s easier to track metrics like average resolution time to see whether you’re performance is trending up or down.
  • Resolutions are faster: Simple problems can be resolved faster over synchronous messaging. Customers are able to immediately get answers to their questions, so small issues don’t get dragged out.

Cons of Synchronous Messaging.

Despite this, synchronous messaging nevertheless has challenges. Here are some problems your team can face when relying solely on this type of messaging.

  • Customers spend more time waiting: During busy periods, agents cannot handle multiple conversations simultaneously, and wait times can increase.
  • Agents can only handle one conversation at a time: The key factor in a synchronous conversation is that both parties are there chatting at the same time. But doing so means your agents won’t be able to juggle multiple conversations at once, making them slower overall. The alternative, of course, is to help your agents quickly serve customers by equipping them with an AI-powered agent response tool, helping them handle more conversations in the same amount of time.
  • It’s harder to solve complex problems: Synchronous messaging may be less than ideal for situations where your agents don’t have the expertise to solve a particular problem. Customers may have to repeat themselves if they’re being passed from one agent to the next, and they’ll likely also spend more time on hold, none of which is optimal.
  • Customers can’t get answers outside of business hours: Customers are used to getting what they want when they want it. Since agents must be present for synchronous conversations, customers can only chat during business hours. The alternative, of course, is to hire more agents to work shifts throughout the day or to invest in an AI assistant that is always present.
  • It can cost more money: Since agents can’t handle as many conversations at once, you’ll likely need to hire more agents to cover the same amount of calls.

What is Asynchronous Messaging?

All of today’s messaging options allow for asynchronous messaging, which means that the parties involved don’t have to be present at the same time to hold a conversation.

Interactions that occur over basic SMS, Apple Messages for Business, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter Direct Messages, and RCS Business Messaging can be dropped and picked back up again when convenient.

Pros of Asynchronous Messaging.

When compared to synchronous messaging, asynchronous messaging comes out ahead by providing benefits to your customers and your contact center team.

Here are some of the benefits for your customers:

  • They can multitask: Since conversations happen at the customer’s convenience, customers can go about their lives while receiving help from your team. They’re not locked into a phone conversation or waiting on hold while your agents find answers, making the experience much more pleasurable.
  • Customers don’t have to repeat information: The big draw of asynchronous messaging is that it creates an ongoing conversation, meaning that your agents will have access to the conversation history. For this reason, customers won’t have to repeat themselves every time they contact customer service because their information is already there.

Here are just a few ways it improves your contact center teams’ workflows over synchronous messaging:

  • Agents can manage several conversations at once: Since conversations happen at a slower pace, agents can engage in more than one at a time–up to eight at once with a conversational AI platform like Quiq.
  • Agents show improved efficiency: Since agents can manage 3-5 simultaneous conversations, they can move between customers to improve their overall efficiency by a considerable amount.
  • Lower costs for your customer service center: Since agents are working faster and helping multiple customers at once, you need fewer agents. Instead, you can spend money on better training, higher quality tools, or expanding services.
  • It’s friendly to AI assistants: With asynchronous messaging, it’s relatively easy to integrate AI assistants powered by large language models. These assistants can welcome customers, gather information, and answer many basic queries, thus streamlining agents and freeing them up to focus on higher-priority tasks.

Cons of Asynchronous Messaging.

That said, asynchronous messaging does come with a few challenges:

  • It can turn short conversations into long ones: There can be situations in which a customer reaches out with a simple question, your agent has their own follow-up question, and the customer responds hours or even days later. One of the traps of asynchronous messaging is that people tend to be less urgent in replying, which could be reflected in longer resolution times and an increase in the number of open tickets your agents have on their dockets.
  • It can be harder to track: Asynchronous messaging often doesn’t have a clear beginning or end, making it difficult to measure. This issue is ameliorated to a considerable extent if you partner with a purpose-built conversational AI platform able to measure tricky, nebulous metrics like concurrent average handle time.
  • Agents have to be able to multitask: Having multiple conversations at the same time, and switching seamlessly between them, is a skill. If not trained properly, agents can get overwhelmed, which can show in their customer communications.

Implementing Synchronous and Asynchronous Messaging.

Despite their differences (or because of them), both synchronous and asynchronous messaging have a place in your customer service strategy.

When to use Synchronous Messaging.

We’ve already answered “what is synchronous messaging,” now let’s look at the situations in which synchronous messaging is the better approach, including:

  • When customers need quick answers: There’s no better reason to use synchronous messaging than when customers need quick, immediate answers. In such cases, it will often not be worth stretching a conversation out over an asynchronous communication.
  • When diffusing difficult situations: As much effort as we expend trying to address customer service challenges, they inevitably happen. Upset customers don’t want to wait for replies while they go about their day, they want immediate responses so they can get their needs met, and that requires synchronous messaging.
  • When troubleshooting issues with customers: It’s much easier to walk customers through troubleshooting in real-time, instead of stretching out the conversation over hours or days.

When to Use Asynchronous Messaging.

Asynchronous messaging is best used when customer issues aren’t immediate, such:

  • When resolving (certain) complex issues: When customers come to your service team with complex issues that can be solved more slowly, asynchronous messaging really shines. It enables multiple agents and experts to jump in and out of the chat without requiring customers to wait on hold or repeat their information. (Note, however, that there’s a tension between this point and the last point from the previous section, which counseled using synchronous messaging for exactly this purpose. To clarify, urgent issues should probably be handled with synchronous messaging; but if an issue is complex, it’s a good candidate for asynchronous communication, especially if it’s relatively non-urgent and only resolvable with help from experts in multiple areas. Use your judgment.)
  • When building relationships: Asynchronous messaging is a great way to build customer relationships. Since there’s no clear ending, customers can continue to go back to the same chat and have conversations throughout their customer journey.
  • When work is especially busy: When your customer service team is overwhelmed, asynchronous messaging allows them to prioritize customer issues and handle the most timely ones first. The tools provided by a conversational AI platform like Quiq can help by e.g. gauging customer sentiment to determine who needs immediate attention and who can wait for a response.

Embrace Asynchronous and Synchronous Messaging.

We covered a lot of ground in this article! We defined synchronous and asynchronous messaging, discussed the pros and cons of each, and provided invaluable guidance into when to utilize one over the other.

Another subject we’ve touched on repeatedly is the value that generative AI can bring to organizations focused on customer experience. Check out this whitepaper for more details. Our research has convinced us that generative AI is one of the next big trends shaping our industry, and you don’t want to be left behind.

Asynchronous Messaging: How to Use it to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

Messaging is good. Asynchronous messaging is better.

Let’s face it. Customers have little tolerance for inconveniences of any kind. Whether that’s waiting around for a response, repeating information, or finding an immediate solution to their problem.

Customer service teams aim to serve, so having the available channels to give customers the exact experience they want is crucial to increasing customer satisfaction.

What is asynchronous messaging?

Imagine you’re the customer. You’re busy but need help returning a pair of boots (that just aren’t your style) that your well-meaning dad bought you for your birthday. A completely random example…

You reach out to the live chat service on the eCommerce website to initiate the return, but you’re interrupted midway through the conversation. There’s an immediate work problem that needs your attention. The kids are fighting. The sky is falling. Whatever it may be, you have to start the process all over again.

Frustrating, right? It’s just a simple return!

Well, asynchronous messaging (sometimes called async messaging or asynchronous chat) takes the stress out of that conversation. It doesn’t require both parties to be present at the same time to complete the interaction. You can simply jump back in once you’ve taken care of life’s responsibilities. This is asynchronous messaging at its best.

SMS/text messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook Chat are all prime examples of asynchronous messaging in action. Conversations can start, stop, and resume whenever either person is available.

At the other end of the spectrum is synchronous messaging. It’s typically a live, one-to-one chat between a customer and a customer service representative.

What makes it so different? There’s usually a clear beginning and end to a synchronous chat. A customer reaches out with a specific question or to find a solution to their problem, and the conversation ends once those needs are met.

Think of it like a typical phone interaction—just using messaging instead of voice. And since synchronous messaging is so similar to phone interactions, it often comes with the same drawbacks.

  • Customers have to wait for a live agent.
  • If the agent can’t answer a question, the customer has to be rerouted.
  • Agents can only serve one person at a time.
  • Complex problems take up more of your agents’ time.
  • If a customer gets interrupted, the chat ends without a resolution.

Now that you know what asynchronous messaging is, keep reading to learn about the benefits for your customers, your support team, and your bottom line.

Getting started: 7 benefits of asynchronous messaging.

Think of asynchronous messaging somewhere between live chat and email. Customers typically expect a quick—but not instant—response. This flexibility allows your team to deliver exceptional customer service in a time that works for the customer and your team.

But that’s not the only benefit. Here are seven benefits of adding asynchronous messaging to your customer service arsenal.

  1. Customers can fit you into their busy days. Life is busy. We’re always multitasking. There are too many distractions—it’s a lot. Asynchronous messaging gives customers the flexibility to fit you into their schedules. They don’t have to block time out of their day for a lengthy live chat or wait for business hours to get someone on the phone. Instead, they can get their support requests taken care of on their own time, at their own pace.
  2. Less wait time. Since agents can jump in and out of multiple conversations—as many as 30 at a time—customers spend less time “on hold” waiting to connect with a live agent. And that is really important to customers. Zendesk reports that over 60% say getting their issues resolved quickly is the most important aspect of good customer service. With asynchronous messaging, customers can get answers while going about their day.
  3. No repeated information. One of the things that frustrates customers the most is to have to repeat their problem. No matter whether they get disconnected from a live chat or transferred to multiple people before they get an answer to their problem, repeating themselves almost always leads to a bad experience. With asynchronous messaging and a conversational platform behind it, customers (and agents) can pick up the conversation right where they left off. There’s no information lost between sessions. Their conversation history is available for agents to reference at any time.
  4. Resolve problems in less time. While asynchronous messaging potentially drags out conversations (depending on how quickly your customers respond), agents often spend less working time per interaction. Quiq clients can reduce work time by 25–40% when converting calls to messaging. This is because agents can quickly address those frequently asked questions that don’t necessarily require a phone call (think password reset process and hours of operations). Simple problems get solved faster, while more complex problems have the breathing room to come to a thorough resolution.
  5. Prioritize customer requests. During peak times, when your team is truly overwhelmed, asynchronous messaging helps your agents triage customer requests. Collect customer information, sentiment, and problem upfront to determine how quickly the problem needs to be addressed. A customer service agent can immediately help an angry customer with a simple problem and close out the ticket quickly. While a neutral person with a more complex question can wait a little longer for your agents to figure out the right response.Asynchronous messaging agent efficiency customer engagement performance channels sms facebook instagram whatsapp conversations
  6. Meet support demands with fewer agents. Much like phone calls, synchronous messaging requires one agent per customer interaction. To meet demand and avoid long wait times, you need a higher volume of staff members at all times. This also means that you likely have to hire extra team members to support peak times. Asynchronous messaging can help with that. Since your support team can take part in multiple conversations at once, you can serve more customers with fewer agents. This is particularly helpful now when baseline support ticket requests have gone up 20% since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Zendesk.
  7. Get more opportunities to initiate a conversation. Since conversations are more flexible, customers are more likely to engage with customer service reps at different stages within the the customer lifecycle. Customers don’t have to set aside big chunks of time for conversations and your team will have more context to help serve them better. From starting a conversation from Maps with Apple Messages for Business or using Facebook Messenger to ask about size options, there’s ample opportunity to serve customers and increase revenue.

How to make the most out of asynchronous messaging.

Messaging as a whole has significantly grown in popularity since the pandemic began, and it has done so at a faster rate than any other channel. Support tickets coming in from messaging channels rose by 48%, compared to a 15% increase from live chat.

If you haven’t embraced asynchronous messaging yet, we have a few best practices to shape your approach and help you get started.

  • Design your asynchronous messaging strategy around your agents waiting for the customer—not the other way around. While it gives your agents the ability to manage multiple conversations, the benefit should really be for the customers’ flexibility. If you use asynchronous chat to spread your team too thin, the experience can end up feeling like email, which no one likes.
  • One way to improve response times and decrease the time agents spend per interaction? Use a chatbot to welcome customers and collect pertinent information beforehand. This way, customers get served quickly, and agents can spend their time problem-solving instead of gathering information.
  • Want to stand out? Don’t treat messaging like email. In 2020, Zendesk reported that it takes more than 11 hours, on average, to close messaging tickets. That’s compared to 30 minutes for voice and live chat and 11.5 hours for email or web form tickets.
    While messaging gives your team more flexibility to respond, customers still expect a response time in under 5 minutes. Try staffing it as you would with voice and live chat to start. Then, adjust as your team becomes more efficient and you invest in other ways to streamline service.
  • Remember to track actual work time. Overall, asynchronous messaging will have high-resolution times since you can resolve issues in two minutes, two hours, or two days. Giving customers the freedom to respond at their own convenience can superficially elevate those numbers. But remember: if a customer is responsible for the delay, a two-day conversation can result in a lower work time and a higher customer satisfaction rate. So take resolution times with a grain of salt. A conversational platform like Quiq can help you measure actual work time.

Start using asynchronous messaging and deliver stellar customer service.

With customers flocking to messaging channels, it’s a great time for your customer service team to adopt asynchronous messaging. The best way to set your team up for success? With a conversational platform, like Quiq.

Turn any messaging channel into an asynchronous experience. With Quiq, you can:

  • Manage conversations across multiple channels
  • Serve customers based on sentiment
  • Increase agent efficiency and boost customer satisfaction

Sign up for a Quiq demo and see how it can help you deploy asynchronous messaging and elevate your customer service.